Roman villa in Varignano Vecchio
Comune di Portovenere: via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 9 - 19025 Portovenere (SP)
Telefono: 0187 79 48 00
Gli scavi nella villa Gli scavi nella villa

The smallest Municipality in the province of La Spezia is a concentrate of beauty. Along with the Cinque Terre, Portovenere, a Unesco World Heritage site, is one the most fascinating and charming places in Liguria.  It has a small sheltered harbour, with a promenade onto which a myriad of characteristic brightly-coloured small, narrow Ligurian houses that lean against each other overlook, and an imposing castle which dominates the built-up area surrounded by walls.  

The beautiful Roman church of San Pietro that rises above the sea, on the rocky promontory that soars into the lake cannot be forgotten. 

A Byzantine base during the early Middle Ages, it was destroyed by the Rothari in 643 but it flourished again in the following centuries also thanks to the monastic movement that involved the two islands of Palmaria and Tino.

The crystalline sea and the overlooking cliffs, which dominate the landscape that climbs towards the hills covered by woods and maquis with their harshness, have to be seen.
Portovenere however is not only the proof of greatness and Medieval importance or stately and unspoiled nature: in Varignano hamlet, in fact, Villa Romana Marittima has come to light, with a rustic-residential character, with a wet dock and a pier, to which a series of plants for producing and exporting oil were added.  

It is a country villa that represents unique evidence in the Ligurian territory.  It was used both as a base for the farm and also for relaxation and resting.  It is positioned at the bottom of a small water-rich valley and is surrounded by an olive grove.
Besides this, there was a spa with caldarium, sudatorium, tepidarium and frigidarium, all arranged around a big tank with a fountain.  The large two-nave building that housed the tank dates back to this phase.  The tank could hold about 700 thousand litres and was necessary for the increased demand for water.

With the development of the natural and cultural resources of Liguria project (Level 4 of the ROP ERDF 2007-2013) the aim is to intervene on Turra farmhouse, one of the three historical farmhouses in the area, built in 1717 on the structures of one of the two atriums of the dwelling area of the Roman villa. The intervention includes and extended archaeological excavation and building renovation.

A little bit of history

The site, which is in a particularly favourable position, reveals traces of use starting from the II century BC: the first villa was built in the years after the establishment of the Luni colony, which occurred in 177 BC, and probably after 155 BC, the year in which the Apuan Ligurians were defeated by the Romans.
At the beginning of the 1st century BC the first villa was replaced by a new rural residential complex in the heart of a wide fundus which, through various construction phases, remained active until the 6th century AD.

After a period of neglect followed by the collapse of the ancient structures, the whole area was used by the Olivetan monks for cultivation, and three rural farmhouses were built, constructed on the bases of the Roman walls of the large tank, the arches of the Great Court and one of the two atriums of the residential section. They are examples of rural construction that has remained unchanged from the end of the 17th century until today.

One of the three, the Turra historic farmhouse, built in 1717 and lived in until the 1980s, is now in an advanced state of deterioration and needs prompt intervention.

The intervention

The project includes two phases: during the first phase an archaeological excavation will be carried out on the sediment below the farmhouse, in anticipation of the restoration and reclamation works.
Depending on the results of the archaeological survey, given that the intervention is made on mosaic floors, it will be important to evaluate the opportunity of keeping any parts of special value or scientific interest visible.

The second phase deals with the works on the building, in other words reclamation of the foundations, archaeological emergencies permitting, strengthening of the walls, floors and roofing. The construction of toilets is programmed. As the property is intended for supervision and welcome, all the elements for ensuring that these activities are carried out will be prepared. In particular, a place for introducing the visit to the Roman villa, with explanatory and educational material, will be prepared.

The part of the building reserved for the public (ground floor) will, compatibly with the building structure, be in compliance with the accessibility standards for the disabled. When the outdoor routes have been made, disabled visitors will be able to access part of the area.

The planned interventions will aim at fully inserting Varignano complex into a prestigious group, which includes the Convento degli Olivetani alle Grazie (The Olivetan Monastery alle Grazie), the other important architectural and landscape emergencies in Porto Venere, which have given it a place on the UNESCO sites, the military fort system that date from the 15th century Castello Doria to the 19th century buildings.


It is impossible to forget the beautiful archipelago of Palmaria, which is just inside the town of Portovenere, opposite the harbour over a narrow arm of the sea, and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. In addition to the main island which gives the archipelago its name, there are also Tino and Tinetto (the latter slightly more than a rock), real rocky outposts with sheer white faces.

A ferry service takes people to and from Palmaria Island which, saved from construction, offers excursionists beaches and rocks, natural vegetation and caves that can only be reached by sea, among which Colombi, which was inhabited during the prehistoric age.

Tino Island is a military zone and is open to the public once a year during the feast of San Venerio, the hermit who lived on the island in the 10th century.
The rock of Tinetto, despite being very small, hosted a monastery for centuries. This monastery had a church with two naves, an oratory and cells for monks, everything built in various phases between the 6th and the 11th centuries.


Portovenere is a very old village, lived in from ancient times and full of historical traces: the oldest part of the town was situated in the promontory where Saint Peter's church now stands.
The church was built by the Genoese to thank the people for their contribution in conquering Lerici.

Originally, however, there used to be a temple consecrated to Venere Ericina (Venus Ericina): the name of the village is indeed linked to this temple of the goddess of love.

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